Art curator and professor Danielle Burns says she has the best of both worlds at the Houston Public Library where she coordinates exhibits using art and artifacts to tell stories about culture and history. Burns, who received her B. A. in history and political science from Prairie View A & M University and her M. A. in art history from the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, worked with Michelle White of the Menil Collection to organize "The Whole World was Watching: Civil Rights Era Photographs from Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil." "With art history, it's all about putting things in context," she tells us. "The "Whole World Was Watching" exhibition was a great marriage of my art and history backgrounds because we were able to tell the story of the civil rights movement chronologically through images, putting art, culture and history together in a way that had more of an impact than just any one of those would."
What She Does: Burns says she knows all too well the dazed look that comes into someone's eyes when she tells him what she does for a living. "I always say I'm a curator. If a person has a look on their face that seems a little puzzled, I explain to them that a curator is a person who organizes exhibitions in a museum. But I work at the Houston Public Library, and while it's the same premise I work with more than just art, I work with documents, [artifacts] and other things as well. I'm also a professor; I teach art history and art appreciation."
Why She Likes It: Curating a show is a multi-step process, including research, coordinating exhibition pieces and of course, mounting the exhibit. "I like all of it," Burns says, "but what I enjoy the most is putting it all together, installing the shows. There's always a vision behind the exhibit, but when you get into the space and lay out the works and see what you have, that's when the magic happens."
What Inspires Her: Asked where she draws her inspiration, Burns is quick to answer, "The Bible, my family, travel, nature, and of course, any great work of art."
Case in point is the "Emma Richardson Cherry: Houston's First Modern Artist" exhibit currently on display at the Julia Ideson Library downtown. Burns worked with Texas art scholar Randy Tibbits in organizing the show. "I met with Randy Tibbets about another show that we had in mind, but while we were talking, Mrs. Cherry's name continually came up. I was familiar with Mrs. Cherry because her murals adorn the walls on the Julia Ideson building, but I didn't know much else about her. As I was doing the research, I came to see how interesting and important she was. Not only was she an artist, she was an activist, she was a civic leader, and she was a teacher. She influenced so many others that I felt it was appropriate to have an exhibit of her work."
If Not This, Then What: "I love conservation, so I would like to do that. Plus that way I could actually touch the works of art," she laughs. Burns says she'd also like to work as an auto brander. "When you go into a store like The Gap or Banana Republic, they have a soundtrack playing. They consulted an auto brander for that, someone who looks at the collection, and becomes inspired and matches it up with music. There's a lot of thought put into it. I find myself going through stores and listening to the music and thinking, 'Aw, that doesn't fit. I would have different music.'"
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If Not Here, Then Where: Burns has lived in several parts of the United States and abroad. She worked at the Allen Sheppard Gallery in New York City and the St. Louis Art Museum in St. Louis where she was the distinguished Romare Bearden Fellow in 2008. She was also the Mickey Leland International Enhancement Fellow; she studied contemporary East African art at the University of Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania during that post. Where would she like to go next? "New York for the art, the diversity and the energy. Paris for the fashion and the culture. And Austin, because it's still Texas and I like it here."
What's Next: Burns is already at work on exhibits through the next two years. "Next, we have an exhibition with [the library's] Latino [culture] collection. In 2014, we have two big shows. The port of Houston celebrates 100 years so we're doing a show about that and at the Gregory School I'm doing an exhibition in cooperation with the Menil collection about Gandhi and the aesthetics of non-violence."
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana María Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer Jordan "Monster Mac" McMahon, artist, designer